Reveals magic behind closed doors
The legendary guitarist Lee Ranaldo teams up with Hifiklub, a French experimental rock quartet, to create In Doubt, Shadow Him!, the OST for the documentary of the same name. The film moves alongside Ranaldo to observe his day-to-day discussions, projects and collaborations with the artists around him. Running for nearly 50 minutes, the documentary allows viewers and fans to be a fly on the wall to Ranaldo’s many artistic endeavors.
Most rock fans know Ranaldo from his fame with Sonic Youth, the no wave rock band whose 30-year run was filled with noisy soundbites and expressive lyrics. Ranaldo also has his own arsenal filled with solo projects, creating musical and visual art over the years. Hifiklub, on the other hand, are a quartet at its core but are foundationally focused on collaboration with musicians from far and wide. Collaborating with musicians, writers, artists and architects, it’s clear that Hifiklub has their sights set on reaching all corners of artistic expression.
In Doubt, Shadow Him! is filled with somber and existential material, even if the documentary it accompanies is quite optimistic in its depiction of Ranaldo’s musical creation process. Even as “Racing Thoughts” starts off with light synths, chiming percussion and romantic lyrics, it slowly devolves into something subtly more melancholy after a gorgeous guitar breakdown. The lyrics recount a particular day in an Amsterdam hotel, spent with a lover resting on the room’s bedsheets. Though the image is not particularly foreign to most, it is Ranaldo’s description of the moment that stands out. The repetitive and insistent manner that Ranaldo repeats the lyrics recreate the way that certain memories stand out, even after time has passed. His words show an earnest attempt to rack his mind of this specific memory, but its picturesque flashes vanish as quick as they manifest themselves, further exemplified by the heart-wrenching guitar melody.
The tone of In Doubt, Shadow Him! continues further down a path of angst with “On the Cusp” and “Someone Drifted Over the Edge.” In both instances, Ranaldo and Hifiklub create nonlinear manifestations of the darkest emotions common to humanity. With “On the Cusp,” they channel ominous sci-fi moments, filled with extraterrestrial or underwater beeping that is paired with solemn strings grazed by a light hand. As the song progresses, it becomes more and more acoustic, particularly the beat, which sounds akin to a tapping foot. Again, Ranaldo finds himself dealing with memories, this time of the blurriness of quotidian affairs. With ghostly groans belting in the background, he also bemoans how art tends to “Fly low under the radar/ Of your average Radiohead,” barely heard and understood. “On the Cusp” captures a despair deeply embedded within one’s normal life, only unpacked with active effort.
On the other hand, “Someone Drifted Over the Edge” is arguably less solemn but makes up for it with sheer horror. Jingling cymbals, whistling synths, haunting whispers – there’s certainly nothing very in-your-face about the way the track begins. However, within the paper-thin layers of sound are Ranaldo’s schizophrenic allusions to suicide. He creates an image of a cyclical, eternal demise as the speaker repeatedly comes near and falls off the edge of what must be a never-ending cliff. This dismal spoken word put over a chilling instrumental showcases the dark depths that Ranaldo can reach with his music and lyrics alone.
The album closes out with “Pure (Take me First),” which immediately starts with strums of a guitar that has a bolero quality to it, even though it is electric. Combined with elegantly complex percussion and an alluring vocal melody, the song is noisy and filled to the brim with delectable soundbites, but it is still far from chaotic. A coaxing whisper begs the listener to try, whatever that might be. Its blaring electric guitars are cathartic, violent and monstrous, unrelenting as they capture the essence of reconnecting with someone down the line from their past of temptation and decadence. By being simultaneously overwhelming and calm, “Pure (Take Me First)” oozes with a languid sinfulness that ends the soundtrack with a rush. If this is what results from a collaboration between Ranaldo and Hifiklub, fans can only hope that this is the first of many.